More Than Cross-Country: the Canyon Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race

More Than Cross-Country: the Canyon Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race

When mountain biking first began to splinter into specialized bikes, I cheered. It seemed obvious to me that there was opportunity for bikes to be more specialized in terms of their service. Skis had been that way for years, even at the consumer level. Between the two extremes of cross country and downhill emerged free ride and eventually all-mountain, but I kept thinking that a middle ground was possible, a bike that would climb well and still make descending an adventure, not a test of nerve.

I’ll add that during this same time period I despaired that the world of road bikes would ever come to embrace this idea of differentiation: not between brands, but within them.

Then we finally got trail bikes, creations that weren’t meant for any form of racing, bikes meant for a morning out with friends. Bikes like the Specialized Stumpjumper, the Scott Genius and Trek Fuel made me love mountain biking in a way that caused me to wonder why I fell in love with the sport back in the 1980s.

And then an even funnier thing happened: I raced some trail bikes at mountain bike races and enjoyed an experience of such superlative amusement it resulted in me asking an existential question about cross country bikes. I mean, unless your overriding interest in mountain biking is racing, I didn’t see the point. Of course, this perspective depends on the belief that it is more fun to roll over the terrain with a bike that responds with the lithe and supple moves of cat, rather than rattling over it like a tin can drug behind a car.

If I’m honest, half the fun of being a reviewer is to encounter products that challenge your assumptions. I have simultaneously watching the emergence of Canyon Bicycles and been wondering just how their bikes would fare once available here in the U.S. I got to put both these questions to the test with the Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race.

The Basics
The Lux series of bikes are Canyon’s full-suspension cross-country rigs. It’s a seven-bike family (plus a frameset) that ranges from the Lux CF SLX 9.0 Race Team at $6500, down to the Lux CF 7.0 Pro Race at $2999. I’ve been riding the Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race. The $3999 bike (which was reduced $500 from its original price of $4499) is built with a Rock Shox Sid XX fork and a Monarch XX shock, SRAM XO-1 Eagle, DT Swiss XR 1501 Spline One wheels, a carbon bar and a KS dropper. I’ll come back to this last detail in a bit.

It’s hilarious to me that one of the primary cost-saving measures of product managers is to ditch the dropper post, and yet this bike, as inexpensive as it is, didn’t cheapskate its way to that price.

The Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race compares favorably in terms of overall design and spec to the Specialized Epic Pro ($6800) and the Cannondale Scalpel Si Carbon 3 ($5500). Considering those data points, it’s easy to see why brands and IBDs have been quaking in their Doc Martens. If you can save $1500—or more—without giving up quality, wouldn’t you?

Honestly, with a price gap like that, for many people I could simply end the review here, right? Compared to the $10,020 S-Works Epic, you could buy both a road bike and a mountain bike on the same day with enough left over to buy a couple of kits from Assos.

But that’s not how we buy bikes. For most of us, the negotiation with our partner is rarely more elaborate than the sales pitch to buy a bike. Such a bike as the Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race presents an opportunity to dial the spend back without really sacrificing the quality necessary for a bike to last with regular maintenance.

SRAM’s XO-1 Eagle is the first 1x group that hasn’t left me routinely feeling that I was missing a gear at the low end. Granted, I ride in places where the hills are steep, and there were a few occasions where I’d have liked just another tooth or two, but the drivetrain had both good range and good spacing between the cogs. It’s not just about range, yaknow?

The Gripshift was something of a surprise, and while I found those shifters both wonky and laughable when I worked in shops, they have gotten progressively better. I hesitate to write this, but Gripshift may actually be my favorite method of shifting a rear derailleur. The touch is light, the turn minimal and the instinctive feel becomes as second nature as pedaling itself. SRAM ought to push Gripshift more.

Consumer Experience
A big piece of the Canyon value proposition isn’t cutting out the middleman, it’s cutting out the middleman and the retailer. Eliminating all that margin (which creates jobs and feeds families) is terrific for the consumer, right up until you open the box, whereupon you are faced with the prospect of doing a shop mechanic’s job.

I’ve heard repeatedly about how hard bike companies are working on their packaging and assembly so that consumers can purchase a bike online and do little other than open the box, turn the bar, add pedals and then set the sag on the suspension before heading into the woods. Overcoming this speed bump in the consumer experience is no small matter.

As someone who has assembled literally thousands of bikes in my life, I can say with considerable certainty that the assembly of the Lux was only marginally better than what I’ve seen over the years. And by marginally, what I mean is that Canyon included a few tools, including a rudimentary torque wrench. The bike itself was no more prepped for the consumer than any other bike in a box, and honestly, that shocked me.

What was more disappointing was that the cable housing and hydraulic hoses were all cut too long for my size medium frame. Compress the fork too much on landing and the front brake hose would buzz against the front tire—zzzzz. And due to the way the handlebar was packed in the carton, the rear hydraulic hose had been warped and curved in to the frame at a very strange angle. Had I just purchased this bike with the expectation that it would be nearly ready to ride, I’d have been disappointed.

These details are easily fixed, but DOT fluid being what it is, I don’t think too many home mechanics are going to want to bleed both brakes to replace (or cut down) the hose.

Framing the Ride
It’s not particularly difficult to create a full suspension mountain bike that weighs 25.1 lbs. (Canyon claims 24.25 lbs.) like the Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race. What is more difficult is hitting 25 lbs. without the bike running $6k or more.  The weight reduction was accomplished by spec’ing SRAM’s XO-1 Eagle, which eliminated the front derailleur and shifter (though there is still a front derailleur mount on the frame), and eliminating the pivot at the rear dropouts.

A pivotless rear end is one of those ideas that has been surprisingly slow to catch on—the idea is more than 10 years old. It gives the manufacturer the opportunity to simplify construction and assembly, eliminate bearings that wear out, give the bike a bit more platform to improve pedaling efficiency and, of course, save weight.

Many of the tubes on this bike are wider in the lateral plane than they are in the vertical one. Indeed the seatstays look like leaf springs. I’m not sure how much additional compliance gave the frame, nor does it really matter. What was important was that the bike carved lines with precision. If I chose a line and the tires hooked up, the frame would hold that line.

One small ding on the frame: the pressfit BB. It creaked. Of course it did. Thank Buddha for iPods and earbuds when riding alone.

Not Just Race
The big question on my mind as I assembled the Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race was if the bike would be enjoyable on the terrain I ride day in and out, or would it only feel in its element on a race course. I’ve got strong opinions on mountain bikes. I’m not a fan of hardtails unless all you plan to do is race. Similarly, my feeling is that a mountain bike without a dropper post is an incomplete mountain bike. I’d feel differently if I lived someplace flatter, but I simply don’t want to be a mountain biker in California without a dropper post. Hell, I’d like a dropper on my gravel bike.

Along those lines, I also want some control over the bike’s suspension. The Rockshox Sid/Monarch setup came spec’d with a lockout button that reduced travel to somewhere in the neighborhood of 20mm, stiff enough for thrashy out-of-the-saddle efforts yet with enough movement to still take the edge of any surface that isn’t pavement. I really loved locking out the suspension for the paved portion of my rides and smoother climbs. Every time I think that pedaling efficiency can’t be hurt that much by only 100mm of travel, this bike has surprised me.

Until this bike came along, I was of the opinion that the way to be faster on a descent was a combination of frame geometry and suspension travel. On big terrain, like ski areas, adding another 10mm of travel had nearly always made the bike faster on descents. The only liability to me was whether a manufacturer did anything to make the bike climb more efficiently. Slacking the head angle, lengthening the top tube and dropping the bottom bracket all contributed to bikes that eliminated endos.

But what about places where the terrain winds like a toddler through a toy store? Honestly, as fun as flow trails are, most of us live in places where trails twist and thread between trees and maybe rock. Even if you took out all the trees and paved the trails, the turns are too tight for even a Mini Cooper. And until I started really looking at data from my rides on Strava, I was slow to let go of the idea that the longer wheelbase that comes with a longer travel bike and increased trail (due to slacker head angle) would make a bike descend faster, all other things being equal.

Damn Strava.

I wasn’t surprised that I was quicker on climbs. Shave 5 lbs. off a bike and almost any rider can note the difference. But when I started registering PRs on trails that wound like knotted kite string, I started looking harder at trail and wheelbase. The Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race has a wheelbase of 111.4cm. Many trail bikes come in closer to 114cm, and bigger bikes can be 119cm or more. It’s the difference between a scalpel and a machete—around or through?

I’ll admit that above 25 mph the Lux can become a bit nervous and twitchy, so staying calm on a narrow but straight piece of singletrack is mandatory, but that price is worth the ready maneuverability I get in the trees.

The experience of screaming through the tightest turns on my rides ratcheted up when I decided to ditch the Maxxis Ardent Race and Ikon tires in favor of the Continental Mountain King and Cross King. The Maxxis are probably nice enough on a buffed out race course, but on the loose stuff I washed out enough to have to raid my supply of Tegaderm. Canyon says the Lux has clearance for up to 2.25-inch tires. The Conti’s are 2.35 and had no problem fitting in either the fork or the rear triangle. I’d be inclined to rethink this if I rode where there was a lot of sticky mud.

Prior to the addition of a more aggressive tire, I liked the Lux CF 8.0 Pro Race plenty, but I didn’t think it could serve as my only mountain bike. I’d still want/need a trail bike, right? With the new tires it was a different bike, easily the biggest transformation I’ve encountered as a result of two pieces of rubber.

This is one of those occasions when I don’t want to return the bike. Considering how impressive this model is, I can’t help but wonder just how good the Lux CF SLX 9.0 Pro Race Team is.

Final thought: Rather like Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings”—much better than expected.

 


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11 comments

  1. Neil Winkelmann

    The seat-stays are indeed leaf springs. They effectively allow the angle between the seat-stays and chain-stays to vary slightly, as required by the suspension geometry. That’s what they mean by “flex pivot”. I think it is a great idea, reducing the number of pivots, bushes and bearings.

    I didn’t know grip-shift was still a thing. One thing that I find unforgivable is that Sram have made/kept the control ring circular/round. If it was tear-drop shaped, valuable tactile feedback as to what gear you were in would be available. When we had multiple chain-rings, this mattered. Knowing (without looking down) whether I still had another gear-or-two at the back or if I had to dump the front as I approached a ramp would have been useful. We lost this way-back, when thumb-shifters were retired for trigger/lever shifters. Sram could have easily replicated this tactile feature in Gripshift, but didn’t. I hate them for it. (Nowadays, with 1x, the benefits are much reduced as we have no choice but to shift at the back anyway).


    1. Author
      Padraig

      You bring up some on-point observations. One of the interesting things I noticed with this bike was that with only one chainring I gained a very instinctive feel for when I was in my last or next-to-last cog. That may not seem like a big deal until I start to consider just how many different bikes I ride, all with different gearing.

    2. Neil Winkelmann

      Interesting, do you put that down to the Gripshift? Do you have a photo of the shifting ring on the bars you could share?

      With 1X, the feel of what gear you’re in is a combination of your speed and cadence that you can learn, I guess. But with 2X (or 3X) systems, you can have equal speed and cadence under 2 distinctly different combinations of front and rear sprockets, so any system that gives you clues to the correct next shift is useful.


    3. Author
      Padraig

      You can see one of the current models of Grip Shift here.

      That said, I don’t think my sense of what gear I’m in comes from the shifter at all. I think it’s due to the larger jumps between cogs. With 2x and especially with 3x systems (when that was still a thing for me), you end up with enough similar gears that it can be hard to tell just what gear you are in based on speed and cadence. With a 1x system all those very similar but not-quite-the-same gears are eliminated. If I’m going 6 mph and have a cadence of 75 then I know I’m in my lowest gear. Also, while big jumps are super disruptive to me on road and gravel bikes, because the mountain bike terrain I ride is so constantly changing in pitch, I’m much more comfortable pedaling a cadence that may range from 50 on the low end to 100 on the high end. The bigger jumps make sense because otherwise I’d be shifting constantly, so constantly it would get annoying from the simple standpoint of needing to shift through four cogs to get to the gear I need.

    4. Neil Winkelmann

      Thanks for that. So the actuation ring is still round, eh? Couldn’t they even put just a nub on it that you feel with your hands?

      But I see what you mean by 1X and sense of gear you are in. Your combination of speed and cadence is unambiguous in what it tells you about the gear you are in. Not 100% precise (the bigger gaps make it clearer, though), but close enough, and it doesn’t matter as much anyway. You only have one option. Need a lower gear? Just do it. Ooops, no more to go? Oh well, nothing lost. With 2X you’ve lost a precious second before you realised that you had to dump the front, rather than try a shift at the back.

      Yes, 1X makes much more sense on mountain biking and CX where you’re never really in the right gear for more than a few seconds anyway. But not having the right gear on a long and steady road climb, or when riding in a bunch where the speed is set by others, is a real compromise. One I’m not ready to make. Long live the front derailleur!


    5. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, the shifter portion of the grip is round—a barrel. I’m not sure a nub or other indicator would tell you anything truly informative. That said, our views on gearing and front derailleurs are pretty simpatico.

  2. David

    Bikes like this continue to support my Theory of Gravel: as XC MTBs have become more capable on more technically challenging terrain, that’s re-opened the kinds of fire roads, doubletrack, and relatively straightforward singletrack that somebody might have used an XC MTB on in the past but that you don’t need full suspension, a dropper seatpost, etc. to ride, and that has become the gravel bike.

    Just my pet theory.

    1. Neil Winkelmann

      I’m drawn to gravel precisely because of the lack of technical challenge it represents. I hate being scared of crashing, so much mountain-biking is not enjoyable for me. Gravel adds adventure to road riding, and subtracts challenge from mountain-biking. Both these things appeals to me.

  3. Dave King

    Padraig,

    It’s disappointing to hear that the hydraulic lines weren’t trimmed to size on this bike and that the front line buzzed the tire on fork compression. Canyon gives the impression their bikes are turned and ready to ride pretty much out of the much box minus some minor install. I used to work in a shop a long time ago and do 90% of the work on a bike myself so this doesn’t worry me too much. But it’s time consuming for a home mechanic or expensive to have a shop cut the hydraulic lines and rebleed. My other concern is how well the rest of the bike is put together: are bolts torqued to spec? are pivot points greased or dry? are important bolts greased? carbon paste on bars, stem, seat post?

    Re: HT and XC bikes. I often hear why bother if you don’t race. Well, if you live near trails that aren’t steep or technical, you can easily be overbiked. Riding a HT XC bike makes these trails more challenging and fun. Where I live (Oakland) there’s only a few short sections of trails lasting no more than 30 sec where my bike/skills are overwhelmed. Everywhere else this bike feels capable and quick. A trail bike can feel like a pig on these trails, IMO.

    Interesting that this review covers the old Lux and not the new 2019 Lux (which isn’t available in the US yet).


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I didn’t check each and every bolt to see if it was torqued to spec. I can say that only one bolt (drive side lower pivot) has loosened. The quality of assembly is mostly fine. I did object to the steerer being cut to length in assembly; I wouldn’t have minded if they’d left more length. I hear you about hard tails; in many places lacking in technical terrain they make lots of sense. Where I am, technical is the rule.

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